London Mayor Boris Johnson found himself in an unscheduled debate with predecessor and 2012 Labour Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone today as he celebrated the upcoming abolition of the western extension zone of the congestion charge.
As previously reported, the WEZ will cease to operate on 24 December when the entire congestion charge scheme is suspended for Christmas.
When the scheme reopens on Tuesday 4 January 2011 the Western Extension Zone will no longer exist and drivers living in the area will no longer quality for their resident discount.
Mayor Johnson, who was this morning out and about in West London reminding shoppers of the WEZ’s abolition, has been criticised by opposition politicians and environmental groups who concerned the move will hinder London’s ability to meet clean air standards.
There have also been complaints that abolishing the extension will cost Transport for London £55m in annual revenue at a time when the Mayor has increased fares by £60m next year.
Interviewed on LBC’s James O’Brien show, the Mayor said abolition was “basically a democratic procedure because, if you think about it, this western extension zone was imposed on London after people were consulted and actually said no, they didn’t want it and the previous Mayor bunged it in, none the less.”
That claim prompted addition of Livingstone to the show, pitching the pair against each other for one of the few times since the 2008 election hustings and debates.
James (to Boris): “I apologise for ambushing you in this way but I didn’t know it was going to happen myself. Your description of your predecessor forcing it through despite the fact that people didn’t want it was a little ad hominem, I felt, so it’s only fair that he has an opportunity to respond to them. Ken Livingstone joins me on the line now. You have to concede some ground here don’t you, from the start, Ken, because Boris promised to do this in his manifesto and now he has, so there’s no story here?”
Ken: “No, no. The one opinion that was done showed that 46% of Londoners want to keep it, 42% want to get rid of it. He didn’t promise to get rid of it, he promised to consult. He actually has fought a losing battle with the hard-liners in the Tory group at City Hall because Boris recognises it’s stupid to lose to £55million of income.”
Boris: “Oh rubbish. I’m delighted of course that you’ve brought Voldemort from out of his lair. I have to say the old boy is talking complete tripe. He consulted and then he ignored, he overruled public opinion and I think that was quote wrong and I’m very pleased that we’ve been able to do the right thing by the people of London and to have a proper democratic consultation which produced a 62% vote in favour of getting rid of the western extension zone and if my old mucker wanted to come with me around Westfield Shopping Centre and all the places we’ve just been today and he talked to the various people we’ve met today, there’s pretty overwhelming support for what we’ve done. This is a point of democracy.”
James: “Ken Livingstone, you sit in this chair yourself on occasion. You must have detected a degree of unpopularity for the western extension, in particular of the congestion charge.”
Ken: “No, no. There was a really well organised campaign by Gordon Taylor, former GLC Tory member, but the only poll that’s been done showed that the majority of Londoners wanted to keep it and don’t forget, I went into the Election in 2004 with it as a commitment to bring it in. Now what you’ve got is the loss of £55million is going to be covered by the £60million coming from the increase in bus fares. I just think in the sort of circumstances most Londoners are in, to whack up the fairs for people across the City in order to give this bonus to some of the richest people in London, I think it’s unfair.”
James: “Boris Johnson, it’s certainly an inflammatory suggestion that the 4×4 drivers of Holland Park and Chelsea should be having their congestion charge, the gap it leaves in your budget, plugged by bus passengers.”
Boris: “My dear fellow, I’m afraid you’ve got it completely, and the former Mayor, have got it completely upside-down because of course it is the people in the western extension zone, the people you mentioned in Kensington & Chelsea with the 4x4s, those are the people who have been receiving a massive discount. I’m afraid you’re completely ignorant, well I don’t wish to be rude, but you’re getting the thing upside-down. They haven’t been paying. What we’re doing is something to protect and defend and support the businesses around west London who’ve been very, very badly hit and particularly the people on the perimeter who are not on high incomes.
“Everybody around Brent and Hammersmith & Fulham, everybody around the periphery of the western extension zone has been completely clobbered by this thing and our point was that it was anti-democratic to bring it in, that we were right to consult about it again and I promise you if we took my dear old friend around with us today, he would find there is overwhelming for what we’re doing. I’m very very sorry but we’re not doing something for the Chelsea tractor drivers in Kensington & Chelsea. On the contrary, we’re doing something for everybody else. And with that, my dear James, I’m afraid I’m under the sad obligation of having to let you go.”